Tag Archives: Basilica St. Peter

Our Trip to Italy~Part 11

15 May

  A Slice of Life

Bill Lites                                                        


We discovered St. Peter’s basilica was designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.   St. Peter’s is one of the most renowned works of Renaissance architecture in Italy, and remains one of the largest churches in the world.


In Roman Catholic tradition, the basilica is the burial site of its namesake Saint Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, and according to tradition, the first Bishop of Rome and therefore first in the line of the papal succession.  Tradition and some historical evidence also hold that Saint Peter’s tomb is directly below the altar of the basilica. There has been a church on this site since the time when Constantine the Great was the Roman Emperor from 306 to 337 AD. Construction of the present basilica, replacing the Old St. Peter’s Basilica of the 4th century, began in 1506 and was completed in 1626.


Not long after the crucifixion of Jesus in the second quarter of the 1st century AD, it is recorded in the Biblical book of the “Acts of the Apostles” that one of his twelve disciples, Simon known as Peter, a fisherman from Galilee, took a leadership position among Jesus’ followers and was of great importance in the founding of the Christian Church.  It is believed that Peter, after a ministry of about thirty years, ended up in Rome and met his martyrdom there in 64 AD, during the reign of the Roman Emperor, Nero.


We were able to see St. Peter’s tomb and many of the fabulous works of art by some of the most famous Renaissance masters.  Michelangelo’s famous Pieta sculpture, depicting Mary holding Jesus after he was removed from the cross, was just inside the entrance to the basilica,  on the right, and was one of the most life-like sculptureI had ever seen.


Later, after our tour of St. Peter’s basilica, we checked out the Vatican guards, who are actually Swiss Army soldiers, who have served as bodyguards, ceremonial guards, and palace guards at foreign European courts since the late 15th century.   The name Swiss Guard generally refers to the Pontifical Swiss Guard of the Holy See.   The use of Swiss soldiers as Royal guards and as the Pontifical Guard stems from their reputation for discipline and loyalty, and their employment of revolutionary battle tactics.   Apart from household and guard units, regular Swiss mercenary regiments have served as line troops in various armies; notably those of France, Spain and Naples up to the 19th century.


In 2006, to celebrate 500 years in the line of duty, a group of veteran Swiss Guards marched from Switzerland to Rome, a month-long journey through Italy.   In a public ceremony, at the end of their march, 33 new guards were sworn in on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica, instead of the traditional venue in the San Damaso Courtyard. The photo below is the Papal Swiss Guard, at their station, guarding the access to one of the entrances to Vatican City.


—–To Be Continued—–

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